NOAA panel determines agency head violated ethics code in ‘Sharpiegate’ debacle

Last September, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's acting chief scientist announced that the agency would be conducting a probe of NOAA's apparent public buckling to Donald Trump on whether or not Hurricane Dorian was headed for the state of Alabama when all agency science demonstrated it was not. After Trump erroneously tweeted a claim that Alabama would be in the path of Dorian, you may recall that all hell broke loose when the National Weather Service told Alabama residents that no, they were not actually in danger, upon which Trump had a fit at being corrected and the administration threatened mass firings in the agency if they didn't back Trump on where Trump thought the hurricane was headed.

That verdict is now in. Perhaps unsurprisingly, a panel commissioned by the agency determined that acting NOAA Administrator Neil Jacobs and Deputy Chief of Staff Julie Roberts violated agency ethics "intentionally, knowingly, or in the reckless disregard" of the agency's Scientific Integrity Policy, according to the probe's final report. What's not clear is whether it will result in any significant changes whatsoever.

Trump's false Hurricane Dorian claim, which reached its public apex in an act of supreme White House gaslighting now known as Sharpiegate, was before the COVID-19 crisis, perhaps the most known public episodes of Trump's uncontrollable malignant narcissism turning into genuine public policy crisis. In a passing tweet on September 1, Trump gave an off-the-cuff warning to various states to "BE CAREFUL!" as Hurricane Dorian approached, erroneously including Alabama in the list of states that would be affected.

Trump was wrong about that, and Alabama's National Weather Service office tweeted a quick correction aimed at state residents, reassuring them the state was not in danger. It should and could have ended there, a minor gaffe by a public official that was quickly nullified, but Donald Trump is a genuine malignant narcissist, with symptoms so severe that they alter his very perceptions of reality, and he had an multi-day absolute raging meltdown over the correction that culminated, and this is true, in a decompensating Oval Office Trump displaying a posterboard-sized map of Dorian's once-projected progress on which Trump himself had drawn in new, obviously faked forecast lines encompassing Alabama with, yes, his own black marker.

Technically speaking, altering a federal government forecast map or warning in such a fashion is illegal, for the obvious reason that malevolent figures could use faked government warnings to defraud Americans or cause public panic, but it was only a small part of Trump's furious, extended insistence that a minor error on his part was not an error, and that it was the entire rest of the United States government that was wrong.

It quickly went farther still, with Donald Trump telling his White House staff that the Alabama office's correct tweet needed to be "corrected" to match his own views, an order carried out by then-Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, upon which Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross personally phoned acting NOAA administrator Jacobs with a threat to fire the entire political leadership team at NOAA if they did not "fix" their contradiction of Dear Leader, upon which NOAA released an unsigned, unattributed statement from "a spokesperson" disavowing the Alabama correction and claiming that office, not Donald Trump, was in the wrong.

It was an act of fraud by all involved, for no larger goal than placating a raging but delusional incompetent who insisted that harm be visited upon the scientists that he believed had attacked him by telling the public correct forecast information when he had tweeted an incorrect version. It was an act of overt authoritarian government, and the most egregious one, before only a few months later Trump would insist that a new worldwide pandemic would not arrive in the United States, would not kill Americans in large numbers, and did not need to be met with aggressive emergency preparations because he, the delusional babbling boob, simply said so.

NOAA leaders should have resigned, but bowed to the intense pressure of the near-satirically corrupt Trump team. NOAA's report on the matter now confirms that Jacobs and Roberts should have at the least refused to put the statement out as an official NOAA claim.

The recommendations of NOAA Assistant Administrator Stephen Volz revolve mainly around "clarifying" the ethics policies and formulating new agreements between NOAA and its supervising officials in the Department Commerce to, when possible, Not Be Corrupt—including the establishment of "a scientific integrity policy" covering "the career and political leadership at Commerce." We can safely assume Wilbur Ross will have absolutely no interest in Not Being Corrupt training, so those particular recommendations will likely go nowhere.

More troubling, however, is that the acting NOAA administrator is himself disputing the conclusions of the report. The Washington Post reports that Jacobs, in a statement, "applied an overly broad interpretation" and that NOAA was correct to issue the statement because "The intent was to reconcile the forecaster’s duty to convey information to the public with probabilistic numerical model guidance that was still showing a small, but non-zero, chance of impacts."

Translation: Agency heads are still very afraid, and rightly so, of what Trump and team will do to them if they do not toe whatever lines they are told to toe, and so we will be going with the premise that technically speaking it's not absolutely impossible that a hurricane could, say, make a quantum jump to land on top of Idaho so technically speaking Trump could warn whatever state he wanted to warn and it wouldn't be NOAA's place to correct him.

You cannot say that those fears are unfounded. The Trump team has now dived fully and wholly into corruption, freed by Republican nullification of impeachment charges to seek vengeance on every government watchdog and inspector that has dared to impede them in even the slightest way. It is a given that Wilbur Ross, Donald Trump, and the newest Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows would have absolutely no qualms about removing Jacobs or other officials even now, if they dared question Trump's now Sharpie-backed insistence that hurricanes go wherever Donald Trump says they will go.